Live and Let Die

Monday, February 11, 2008

I can remember as a kid being somewhat frightened by Live and Let Die. I'm not sure what it was – whether it be the freaky Baron Samedi, the crocodiles or seeing more black people than you'd see on an average episode of Sesame Street (poor whitey had probably only encountered one black person at that time) – but like the supposedly kid-friendly Raiders of the Lost Ark, it freaked me out somewhat. Now, though, I'm not quite sure what the fuss was about. Live and Let Die is more camp than a row of tents.

Although, to be fair, the film does have it moments. For example, the opening sequence features three brutal slayings. Fair enough, the first one, with a British ambassador getting zapped, is rather comic, but after that we have a guy getting stabbed and a man getting bitten by a snake. No wonder it had me browning my pants as a child. And then there's the sadistic moment towards the end when Kananga (Yaphet Koto) slices Bond's arm. Once again the darkness is immediately relieved by the ludicrous way in which Kananga is dispatched (he literally goes pop: "He always did have an inflated opinion about himself"), but all those years back the damage was done.

There was also something rather unsettling about the rubber faced Mr Big and Tee Hee. And those scarecrows, too, gave me the creeps. But one thing that made me laugh as a kid and which still gives me the giggles now is Kanaga's lackey Whisper. You'd be hard pressed to find a more amusing Bond subordinate - a fat black man whose voice is perpetually hushed. Indeed, I only have to say to myself, in his silly voice, "Anybody home?...Your champagne…Shall I open it?...Shall I oooopen it?" and I'm laughing like an idiot. And what about the inflating couch that explodes from under him? Bloody hilarious.

Also hilarious is Bond's attitude to sex in this film. Every single lay is achieved via nefarious means – with the Italian girl he indirectly forces her to hide in the cupboard and then sneakily unzips her as she coos over him like a schoolgirl; with Rosie he lets her make a fool of herself before nailing her and then shoving a gun in her face; and with Solitaire he steals her virginity via a set of trick cards. What a rake.

But the very idea of Jane Seymour playing a meek virgin makes me laugh as well. She's one of those women, like Elizabeth Taylor, who made a habit of playing the English rose – women of principles and purity – who behind the scenes were getting more knob than a squad of streetwalkers. You just can't believe that Bond's the first to go there. But it says something for Bond that he's prepared to break her in. Black or white; good or bad; virgin or slut – Bond will shag them all.

But to be honest, the Bond girls in this film are rather sub-par. Rosie is played as a dimwit and Jane Seymour is, well, Jane Seymour. She's just a poor actress with too much hair. And it says something about her and her character that after her first shag she becomes obsessed with sex – all she goes on about is sleeping with Bond or finding a bed in which to sleep with him. And, of course, Bond is happy to comply. And this actually leads to a rather funny moment in the film. In a roundabout way Seymour asks Bond to service her again, and after acquiescing, he says there's no sense in going off half-cocked. How right you are, Rog.

However, Bond doesn't get his way with every woman. In one of my favourite moments in the film, Moore is watching a cabaret singer sing a rendition of 'Live and Let Die'. Moore smarms it up like crazy – as he nods his approval you can see him thinking, "I'd do her" - but before he can start working his magic, he disappears through a hole in the floor. The one that got away, eh? Oh well, there's plenty more fish in the sea.

Another detail that makes me laugh is the fact that there's only one point in the film where Bond looks genuinely worried. I mean, he faces crocodiles and sharks and does it with confidence. But when he's captured by Kananga and it's suggested that his more vital extremities might get cut off, a flicker of concern flashes across his face – for Moore's Bond there's no fate worse than having your cock snipped off.

Another amusing part of this scene are the chair restraints that hold Bond down. They look like they wouldn't hold back Stephen Hawking. And I also love the way that Bond gets knocked out by Tee Hee. He doesn't get hit so much as brushed, yet he goes down like a sack of spuds. Oh, and the 'butterhook' line a few moments earlier in the scene is delivered with toxic levels of smarm.

Perhaps the biggest laugh in the film, though, comes during the boat chase. Sheriff J. W. Pepper, hick extraordinaire, is waiting by the riverside for his cracker brother-in-law to come round the bend and chase Bond in his speedboat. Pepper is proudly telling his pals that if one side of the family doesn't get him, the other side will. And it's then, as Pepper's back is turned, that you see a big black guy driving the boat. It's a wonderful bit of comedy.

Having said that, as funny as the film is, I do prefer the more serious Bond films – with the Moore films I'm usually groaning as I laugh. However, Live and Let Die stands up as one of Moore's best entries. And after having seen the film more times than I care to mention, I only just noticed a wonderful detail rather late on in the film. In the fight at the end with Tee Hee, Bond defends himself by throwing a deck of cards in his face. A deadly weapon that – paper cuts are lethal.

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